If there’s one genre that never managed to get justice on console it’s strategy. The last couple of years countless developers have tried to release a succesful RTS on console but each time they failed in either the controls or delivering enough depth. Creative Assembly again tries to circumvene this prejudice but isn’t really that succesful either.
The background story is that mankind again thought they knew better than nature and before we know it, mother nature showed us we didn’t. Only a few people could be rescued and the rest just had to figure out by themselves how to survive. After a decent “winter sleep” this group of people who called themselves “Echelon” awake to find out they’re not the only survivors. While they were sleeping, the other remainders of humanity were exposed to natural disasters and have evolved in the “Sai”. While at first both parties still got along, it quickly became clear certain people on both sides preferred the other side dead and before people realised mankind was again involved in a new war.
As you could assume from the story there are two factions present that qua style are opposites of each other. The Echelon units are all very structured and stylische created. You could see them as an evolved version of a Western army. Standard units like infantry, snipers and storm troopers are present, just like tanks and buggies. A bit more futuristic are the robots and flying units that make use of floating technology.
The Sai are quite different which shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing they’re the leftovers of people abandoned by the “chosen ones”. As they’ve been completely exposed to natural disasters they’ve managed to evolve mentally and can read minds as well as kill people with their new powers. Disadvantage for them is that their appearance is less human and that they for instance have tentacles at the back of their head. Not only they but also some animals seem to have evolved as they have giant crabs and hydra-like creatures that spit fire at their enemies.
Each units also has multiple possibilities. The Enforcers, standard Echelon infantry, can use shields to defend themselves against incoming bullets or use grenades when overwhelmed by hostile forces. The Sai Rage for instance can storm towards a group of enemies with his giant hands or create a shockwave by hitting the ground with his fists.
All these extra possibilities for your units are fun but of course the player also needs the possibility to use them and that’s where three big problems arise: camera, controls and intelligence. The developers chose to attach the camera always to a unit which should immerse the player more into the combat but this makes for complete chaos when controlling one. In open areas it still somewhat works but from the moment you go into smaller areas the camera is quite hardly pushed against your units and you completely loose oversight, something crucial for a strategy game. Also there’s the possibility to see a 3D map of the surroundings but it’s way too unclear to use for giving commands.
As said the controls are the second problem although the developers claim it’s supposed to be a breath of fresh air. Their so-called “whip select” makes it possible to select other units with a couple of buttons through their icons and give new assignments without changing your camera view to them. Whenever there’s no action this works pretty well but as soon as they go into combat the icons constantly change position on the screen and it’s almost impossible to decently select them, especially when other units are around as well.
Another disadvantage is the grouping of the units. Normally the dev is one of the most experienced ones when it comes to RTS games but how come you can only group 3 units? When playing with something like 20 units on a map and you can only group them in such small numbers it’s way too hard to give them new assignments.
The last problem is the unit intelligence. At one time they can perfectly fight independently while taking cover behind a variety of objects, while at other times they’ll just let themselves get slaughtered in the middle of a road without even trying to take cover. Also ordering them to attack doesn’t go so smoothly. Troops will sometimes first run to the enemy position before firing at them, which makes that half your units are dead before they even start shooting…
Another feature the devs liked to show off was the influence of the vertical in maps. Your units can fight on several floors and this also has an influence on the units below. It’s a beautiful feature but one that doesn’t work well due to the problems mentioned above.
Graphically the game does its job, the player feels that Mother Nature has done some cleaning up thanks to the many destroyed buildings and constant earthquakes. Also the animations of the units are beautiful to see, infantry smoothly moves from one cover to the other and the Sai monsters are a feast for the eye. The cut-scenes are made with the in-game engine to enhance the atmosphere but unfortunately they’re recorded in an inferior quality. The game also comes with a decent soundtrack that perfectly fits the desolate world and the sound effects are also of high quality. Very pleasing is that you can hear your troops talk against each other concerning possible future events, something that adds to the atmosphere. One of the few positive points.
Multiplayer is present but not popular due to the already mentioned problems. If you’re still interested you can expect combat with up to eight players. The maps are largely based on the single player mode and the combat comes down to being able to handle the camera and controls best. Even when outnumbered you can still easily win if you master these elements.
As conclusion I can only say that Creative Assembly better sticks to PC. It’s sad to see a game fail so hard due to its flaws while better quality control could have made it a beauty.